Saturday, July 2, 2011

Welsh Potatoes

Hello again friends. I'm plugging away on the requested revisions to the book. Originally I had written a chapter about Danish foodways, as the Scandinavians comprised about a third of the foreign born population in Utah, and in some places like Ephraim and Brigham City dominated the local culture. The requested revision is to balance the chapter with the three major foreign born populations: British Isles, Scandinavian, and German-speaking (primarily Swiss).

I hadn't thought the British foodways would be anything special. After all, how different could it be from the New England foods that typified Brigham Young's diet? Yesterday at the LDS Archives I got to reading a diary of a Welsh convert, William Ajax. He often wrote in Gaelic, particularly poems and place names. I think this shows his reluctance to leave the culture entirely behind.


Upon reaching Salt Lake City Ajax lamented that potatoes seem to be a rare item in the city, and he had none all the way across the plains. Butter likewise, he says, is rare, as are onions and cheese. Upon further research, it appears these items are mainstays for Welsh cuissine. The potato was, as in Ireland, one of the major Welsh crops, and it shows up in such dishes as potato cakes (teissenau tatws) and potato based stews such as tatws pum munud.

I've made potato cakes for years, and never thought of them as exotic or foreign. I like my welsh-influenced potato cakes much better than the latkes we have at Passover. The basic formula is just a cup of mashed potatoes, a fourth-cup flour, an egg, and a splash of milk. Like William Ajax, I like onions in lots of things, so I mince half an onion and mix that in. William also likes traditional Welsh cheddar, so I often shred a bit of that and mix it in. S & P to taste, of course, and then fry in bacon fat. Later in William's diary he made note of a kind neighbor who gave him a half pound of bacon fat. Gotta thank God for good neighbors.

The garden is going nuts these days, and I'm finishing up a chicken coop. William Ajax started his "stock" with a single laying hen shortly after entering the valley, and I hope to do the same soon. Until then...

3 comments:

MissC said...

I am a Brigham City Scandinavian by descent. My father used to make aebleskiver for us for breakfast on Saturday mornings.

My maternal grandmother was a frugal Scotswoman, and used to fry her eggs in bacon fat, along with her toast. It was delicious. She had no qualms about animal fats, having been raised on a farm near Ogden. Grandma M. also taught us how to fish and bake bread. She used to send us into her garden to get late peas. We would shell them, and half made it to the pot.

She and my aunt used to tell me that a good Mormon girl had to know how to make bread and gravy. Both of them have been gone for many a year, but I still hear them from time to time.

My paternal grandmother was Danish. I have a lot of her recipes that her mother brought from the old country. Frikadeller, the delcious meatballs, chicken soup, fruitcake that even I like eating(!), mustard pickles and Poor Man's Stew, which is a vegetable soup. But her aebleskiver were choice. I have fed them to my children, along with Scottish shortbread and scones, and bread-and-butter pickles.

Every time I make these foods, I think of my grandparents, and their parents and so on...I truly think the old ways do turn your heart to them as well.

Tawna said...

Brock, I found this in the A.H. Hale history book on page 90. Don't know if you have it, but thought you'd want it if you didn't. Enjoy.

Sarah Annie Clark Hale’s English Plum Pudding

2 bowls flour, 1 bowl suet, 1 bowl raisins, 1 bowl currants, 1 teacup sugar, ½ teaspoon each cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg; a little salt, 2 heaping teaspoons baking powder, 6 eggs. Mix to a stiff batter with milk. Boil 5 or 6 hours in a heavy cloth bag. For the bag use a heavy cloth about 27 inches square wrung out in warm water. Flour the inside well and pour on the batter. Pull up the corners and tie with a strong string leaving just enough room for the pudding to rise. Place upside down in a kettle of boiling water on a rack, so it won’t burn on the bottom and keep boiling and fully covered with water in a covered kettle the entire time. Add more boiling water if needed during cooking.

Sauce or ‘Dip’
2 cups sugar and ¼ pound butter, 1 quart of water and boil until all is dissolved. Thicken as for gravy. Flavor with brandy or lemon extract. As a variation, caramelize sugar and butter and just before serving add 1 cup whipped cream. Leave out flavoring.

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